By Agoth Abraham
AWEIL, 8th April 2012 [GURTONG] -Nazanine Moshiri of Al Jazeera news channel witnessed Wednesday's (4/4/2012) air raids that took place near the town of Heglig, in a contested oil-rich area that saw heavy fighting during the Sudanese civil war and later confirmed the incident to Gurtong over the phone while at the incident location.
"We were interviewing the South Sudanese minister of oil who is here assessing the situation and we actually came under attack by what looked like MiG's [fighter jets] belonging to the Khartoum government and also Antonov planes high above," she said. "We were forced to run into trenches." There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage after the raids, but no causalities yet.
"There was anti-aircraft fire in response to the planes attacking the area, and we were told by the South Sudanese - and obviously we couldn’t confirm this - that they actually gunned down one of the MiG’s with their anti-aircraft fire" said Moshiri.
Speaking to Gurtong, Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's information minister, confirmed the air raids and said the MiG fighter, including the pilot, was "burnt beyond recognition"."Today at 3:00pm South Sudan local time, a MiG-29 fighter was on a bombing raid in the area but the SPLA defence unit was able to shoot it down," Benjamin said."So there is concrete evidence of what we have been saying: that we are under continuous attack from the Republic of Sudan, both by air as well as from the ground."
Colonel Khaled Saad Alsawarmi, a spokesman of the Sudanese army, denied Sudan's involvement in the attack."Reports of the warplane shot down are a fabricated lie. No fighting took place today, and even when there were battles previously, the Sudanese army doesn't use planes, just artillery and that is after the South Sudanese army attacks first."
Heglig is situated within the Muglad Basin, a rift basin which contains much of Sudan's proven oil reserves. During the civil war between the northern and southern part of the country, the South Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels attacked the oil rigs of Heglig to limit the oil revenue for the Sudanese government.
Tension has been growing in the area in recent weeks as South Sudan and Sudan continue their dispute over oil fields and control of other areas, since its independence. "What we see on the ground here seems to confirm the escalation of tensions and clashes, which is deeply worrying to the international community that is trying to get the two sides to talk in Addis Ababa," Nazanine Moshiri said.
Sudan and South Sudan failed on Wednesday to sign an agreement in the Ethiopian capital to resolve the disputes that sparked the recent eruption of violence in the contested border region. However, South Sudan accused Khartoum's delegation of walking out of the latest round of African Union-led crisis talks, surprisingly, a Sudanese minister voiced confidence that a deal will be signed when negotiations resume next week earlier before both negotiating teams went to Addis Ababa for fourth round talks.
The UN Security Council expressed alarm on Wednesday at recent clashes between Sudan and South Sudan along their disputed border and urged both sides to halt military operations, warning the fighting could escalate into a new war.
"The Security Council calls upon the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to exercise maximum restraint and sustain purposeful dialogue in order to address peacefully the issues that are fuelling the mistrust between the two countries," the 15-nation council said in a statement.